As a generation that subscribes to quick fixes and instant satisfaction, you may flirt with elimination diets that promise ASAP results. The danger with this mentality and approach is the compromise it poses to your health, considering that many fast wins won’t provide long-term benefits. Of all the overhyped diets, nutritionists explain that low-carb is among the most misunderstood—it also gives carbohydrates a bad reputation. As defined, a low-carb diet limits carb-rich foods such as grains, fruit, dairy, and starchy vegetables. The tricky part of an eating regimen that nearly cuts out one food group is the imbalance it creates in your digestion and internal health. Before you consider naming carbs enemy number one, separate fact from fiction with these low-carb diet myths.
A low-carb diet only cuts out bad carbs.
The Atkins diet is the most infamous of all low-carb diets and arguably the one that started the trend decades ago, according to registered dietician and professor Keith-Thomas Ayoob, Ed.D., R.D., F.A.N.D. During its strict induction phase, you can only consume about 20 grams—or 80 calories—of carbohydrates per day. For a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet, that’s only 5 percent, which some believe is simply not enough for healthy function. Because this diet is so rule-intensive, many will shy away from carbs completely. This includes the carbs considered healthy by most pros, such as nuts. Atkins does increase the prohibited amount over time. However, the issue is that many begin to fear carbs as a whole, even the good-for-you ones found in carrots or sweet potatoes. Bottom line? It’s both the physical and mental shifts that are cumbersome for this low-carb approach.
A low-carb diet will give you more energy.
In fact, registered dietitian Alysha Coughler explains the opposite is true. “Reducing carb intake … can cause decreased strength and performance in physically active individuals,” she says. Because your body isn’t producing energy, activities that used to rejuvenate you, make your heart pump faster, and give you speed could leave you feeling depleted and low on energy. This is your body’s way of signaling you need to restock your carbohydrates ASAP.
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A low-carb diet will keep you thin forever.
So, your coworker roped you into a no-carbs month, and 30 days later you find yourself five pounds lighter. Hooray! While Ayoob doesn’t deny that restricting carbs will result in weight loss, many people consider it a lifestyle change and a gift that keeps on giving (or rather, shedding). However, after 18 months, he says many people experience a burnout that throws their diet—and their habits—for a loop. “A low-carb diet has no advantage over a balanced, low-calorie diet. Once you hit this plateau, many people will want to have a varied diet,” he explains. “Eating fresh fruit doesn’t need to be explained or apologized for, as it’s part of a balanced diet. The same is true for potatoes and rice.”
A low-carb diet will help you lose weight faster.
When you first omit carbs from your diet, Ayoob says you may experience near-instant results. You may think you’re releasing fatty weight. In actuality, you’re losing water weight. Because our body (and brain) prefers to use the energy of carbs to power us through workouts and workdays, it must turn to glycogen stores to produce stamina. “Glycogen is how the body stores carbs, but it doesn’t store a lot. It’s often gone within a week or two without replenishing the reserves,” Ayoob explains. It’s at this point that water is released, resulting in weight loss. This doesn’t maintain over time, however, making a low-carb diet a poor choice for an extended period of time.
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A low-carb diet will help you build muscle.
Some people hope to drop a size before a big beach weekend. Others want to build endurance and muscle to prep for summer races. Sports dietitian Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., says fitness enthusiasts with the latter goal need carbohydrates to pile on layers of strength. Why? Our most important organ—the brain—needs glucose. When it’s not getting glucose, the body will do everything it can to produce it. “Our brain takes from other fuel sources, such as protein from your muscles, and converts it to glucose. In other words, if you don’t eat enough carbs, your muscles will break down to give the body the carbs it needs,” she says.
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A low-carb diet is healthy.
Bottom line? A low-carb diet can help you meet short-term weight loss goals, but it won’t provide the endurance you need to live an active, healthy life. Any type of drastic omission from your diet can transform the way your body functions. This can cause issues that extend far beyond the beach weekend you’re worried about. Coughler notes, “Drastically cutting carbs from whole grains, fruit, starchy vegetables, and legumes can cause nutrient deficiencies and result in feelings of fatigue and health issues such as constipation.”
Instead of following a low-carb eating plan, Ayoob’s suggestion is to apply the “everything in moderation” metric to each sector of your life. This includes your approach to meal prep and nutritionally sound eating, for optimal, lasting results.